Housing supply at the centre of levelling up plans

Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up outlined plans to unleash building on underused sites in high-demand regions, along with a new design code to improve the quality of new homes, with the UK Government committing to passing the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and updates to the National Planning Policy Framework later in 2023.

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Regeneration and densification for inner-cities

Gove stated the UK Government will target their efforts in the heart of cities and use all the levers available to promote urban regeneration. 

A July 2023 report by the Commons Housing Committee found that while ministers are on track to deliver their one million homes target, they are not expected to meet their other commitment to deliver 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s.

Unblocking planning bottlenecks

To speed up the construction process and clear planning backlogs, a new £24 million Planning Skills Delivery Fund will be launched, which is also intended to close skills gaps in the planning system. Developers will also be expected to pay more in planning fees to make sure planning departments can be better resourced.

A ‘super-squad’ of leading planners and experts, backed by funding of £13.5 million, will be tasked with removing barriers to major housing developments in the UK Government’s eight job-creating Investment Zones in England, to ensure a high-quality housing supply for workers.

Design with communities in mind

Gove’s speech recognised that new developments must have the support of local communities – which will be achieved if they are beautiful, well-connected, and accompanied by the right infrastructure and green space.

The UK Government believes local authorities should continue to develop local plans to ensure the right houses are built in the right place, and communities are able to have their say.

An Office for Place will be established and based in Stoke-on-Trent, which will lead on housing design, ensure developments reflect local character and support residents to provide their feedback to developers.

Cities of the future  

Following the commitment in the Levelling Up White Paper to regenerate 20 places, ambitious plans for Cambridge, plus inner-city London and central Leeds have been clearly set out, as well as landmark investments in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

The vision is that Cambridge will be a European science capital, with a quarter dedicated to cutting edge laboratories, commercial development and life science facilities, as well as 6,000 sustainable homes.

In London, ‘Docklands 2.0’ could deliver up to 65,000 homes across multiple sites, and Gove stated that the Affordable Homes Program would be directed towards regeneration for the first time, with up to £1 billion available to look at innovative approaches, such as releasing industrial land for housing.

The plans for Leeds include up to 20,000 new homes over the next decade and exploring the idea of a West Yorkshire mass transit system to open up the city to more workers.

Leasehold properties

The Building Safety Act 2022 introduced protections for leaseholders against costs to fix mistakes made in construction. Following on from this legislation, the Cladding Safety Scheme will now be opened to all eligible buildings, meaning leaseholders will not be out of pocket to fix dangerous cladding in medium or high-rise buildings.

The UK Government also confirmed the intention to mandate second staircases in new residential buildings above 18m, following confirmation from expert bodies that they support this threshold.

New legislation to be introduced in the King’s Speech in November 2023 will include reforms to leasehold law that cracks down on exploitative ground rents and expands leaseholders’ ability to enfranchise.  

Priority to first-time buyers

Having backed first-time buyers over the years through the tax and planning system, the UK Government plans to extend the ladder of opportunity to many more by prioritising first-time buyers for homes over those with multiple properties, over those seeking to convert family homes into holiday lets, and over speculative buyers who have been seeking to invest only to inflate property prices.

Three-quarters of a million people have been helped to buy their first home since 2010 – through programmes including Help to Buy, Right to Buy and shared ownership. Further details of first-time buyer schemes are expected by the end of 2023.

Renewed commitment to landlords and tenants

Reiterating the key elements of the Renters (Reform) Bill, which includes a Decent Homes Standard, Gove made it clear that this legislation would support their levelling up plan as well as renew the commitment to support landlords and tenants. Whilst the number of non-decent homes has reduced by 2.5 million since 2010, a fifth of homes still do not meet basic standards.

Consultation on Permitted Development Rights

To remove the red tape around converting empty offices and retail premises, as well as make it easier to extend commercial buildings and repurpose agricultural structures such as barns, views are being sought on new Permitted Development Rights. The aim will be to provide more certainty over some types of development and how design codes might be applied to protect local character and give developers greater confidence.

A transcript of Michael Gove's speech is available here  →

The announcements from the Secretary of State are a step in the right direction, but we need action now to provide homes the country needs. Housing reforms must also reflect societal change, help tackle the climate emergency, involve the tax system, meet the needs of older people and ultimately provide more affordable options.

We welcome the proposals for a new design code to improve the quality and the inclusion of new support to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder.

It is also positive to hear the UK Government is looking to ensure good landlords and agents are supported in these proposals. The private rented sector is crucial to a well-functioning housing market so a whole-scale long-term plan involving tax reform and clarity on energy efficiency targets is needed to address the imbalance of high demand and low housing supply, as well as incentivise investment for property agents and their landlords.

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Nathan Emerson CEO | Propertymark